PHOENIX - Lawmakers voted Wednesday to pave the way for research at state universities that eventually could allow doctors in Arizona to recommend marijuana to treat more conditions.
On a 37-19 vote, the House approved SB 1443 to alter last year's law banning marijuana from college and university campuses in order to allow federally approved research. The only other requirement would be for the applicable review boards at each school to give their blessing.
The Senate already approved the measure, and an aide to Gov. Jan Brewer indicated she's open to the idea.
Wednesday's vote is most immediately a victory for Sue Sisley, a University of Arizona physician who specialists in internal medicine and psychiatry.
She actually had lined up approval two years ago from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to study whether marijuana can help combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. The study also had been approved by the UA's Institutional Research Board, necessary for research on live subjects.
Then lawmakers voted last year to ban any marijuana on campus - even medical marijuana approved by voters in 2010 - and the Board of Regents shelved Sisley's plans. This legislation could put it back on track.
The real beneficiaries, though, could be those suffering from various conditions for which medical marijuana is not now approved in Arizona.
State Health Director Will Humble last year rejected efforts to expand the list, which now ranges from glaucoma and AIDS to any chronic or debilitating condition that leads to severe and chronic pain. He said there is insufficient quality, peer-reviewed research to show that marijuana can be an appropriate treatment.
This legislation - and the research that it would allow - could provide Humble with the documentation he needs.
But not everyone is keen on allowing such research at a public institution.
Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, said Wednesday that U.S. approval does not mean serious research.
Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, shared a similar concern. He cited a report on how the National Science Foundation funded a grant that included, among other things, putting shrimp on a treadmill. "I don't want to give universities the opportunity to do trivial research," he said.
Sisley, however, said Wednesday that there is a need for good research, saying there is at least anecdotal evidence that some veterans suffering from PTSD have responded well to marijuana.
She said efforts to do research off campus have proved fruitless, with landlords loath to provide space where people would be using marijuana, even if blessed by federal agencies. Sisley said that leaves the universities.
When voters approved Proposition 203 in 2010, they said individuals who have a doctor's permission and a state-issued identification card can obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. So far the state has issued more than 38,000 of these cards.
The law banned the drug on public school campuses. Last year, university lobbyists persuaded lawmakers to expand the prohibition to universities, saying allowing marijuana on campuses would violate U.S. regulations and could mean loss of funding.